Saturday, January 19, 2008

Weekend Wind-Down - Burns Night

This weekend Natasha gives us less of a Weekend Wind-Down and more of a ... 'hands on research opportunity'. Now brace yourselves because you need to get busy.

As anyone who has visited my blog will know, 2007 was an absolute nightmare of a year. Start to finish. But 2008 is looking up. For the first time in months I'm in the mood to party and it just so happens the perfect party opportunity is upon us.

Burns Night!

On the 25th January, which is Robert Burns' presumed birthday, anyone with an fluid ounce of Scottish blood in them honours Scotland's favourite son (obviously Ewan McGregor, David Tennant, Dougray Scott and Sean Connery excepted).

This year it falls beautifully. Next weekend it's party time! But there's no point my waiting until then to tell you all about it because it takes time to get everything together so ....

First off we do need a bit of tartan. Last year I persuaded my husband into my dad's kilt but he complained, fairly constantly, that it was a drafty experience. I'm inclined to think it has to be done though.

Girls - you get to wear the most distracting dress of your choice. Personally I leave the tartan to the boys. Those checks are hard to wear successfully.

Next up - food. And here's the best picture I could find of 'Haggis, bashed neeps and chappit tatties'.

If you ask my dad 'what's a haggis?' he'll tell you it's a small three-legged Highland animal. He'll also tell you that catching them is all about knowing whether you're dealing with a left or right-handed specimen. (Their limbs being shorter on one side so they can run around the hills without either ascending or descending.)

I'm afraid the truth sounds revolting. There are a million and one recipes for Haggis but it's basically sheep's heart, liver and lung, minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally boiled in the animal's stomach. I promise you, it's lovely! I wimp out and buy it. I also roast it. Much nicer.

Sadly, if you live in North America it breaks your food safety laws and you'll have to have a 'pretend' one. Tatties are potatoes. Neeps are Swedish Turnips. At least they are if you live in Scotland. Down south we call them Swedes and, I believe, in the States you call it rutabaga. Oh the joys of a common language.

Cranachan, my dessert of choice, is a calorific nightmare - consisting of cream, more cream and cream!

Again, there are lots of variations. I toast about 3 oz of pinhead oatmeal in a frying pan until brown. Then whisk half a pint of cream to a soft consistency and mix in the toasted oatmeal and a slug of Drambuie. Raspberries are lovely with it and do allow you to fool yourself you're not being unhealthy! :)

If you're really going to do the thing in style you need to find yourself a friendly player of the bagpipes. Failing that you'll have to download something suitable on your ipod or buy a CD.

A really formal affair would have the guests being piped in, but my Burns Night is a more relaxed affair and we wander through, wine in hand. The traditional grace is the Selkirk Grace, after which you have to all stand for the 'piping in' of the haggis. (If you are going to do this properly you'll need the haggis on a silver platter, a real genuine piper and the poor person who has to 'address the haggis' proceeding in state.)

The next bit is non-negotiable - and it's tricky. (If you're the cook, be kind and put a little nick in the skin of your haggis because it really helps later.) Last year our haggis was addressed by Ian McEwan (hi Ian, if you are reading this) and he can keep the job. I can't do it!!

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the pudding-race!
Aboon them a' yet tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o'a grace
As lang's my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin was help to mend a mill
In time o'need,
While thro' your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An' cut you up wi' ready sleight,

(This is the bit where the reader has to plunge his dagger into the haggis so the filling oozes out ready for the 'gushing entrails' bit to follow.)
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin', rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an' strive:
Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
Bethankit! hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad make her spew
Wi' perfect sconner,
Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckles as wither'd rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash;
His nieve a nit;
Thro' blody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He'll mak it whissle;
An' legs an' arms, an' hands will sned,
Like taps o' trissle.

Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o' fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer
Gie her a haggis!

Can't imagine it would get published now. What d'you reckon???? I have absolutely no idea what it all means. Just clap at the end.

Then eat. I like to skip the toasts (and in fact all other poetry) and just drink the malt. Actually, that's not true. I really don't like whisky and stay with the wine.

Whatever your tipple, you should be ready to ponder that all important question - what does a real Scottish man wear under his kilt? I'm married to a through and through sasonach so am not in a position to tell you. Sorry! :)

With love

This July saw the start of a brand-new series in the Presents line - The Royal House of Niroli.

"The Mediterranean island of Niroli has prospered for centuries under the Fierezza men. But now, as the King’s health declines, and his 2 sons have been tragically killed, the crown is in jeopardy. Who will rule? "

Book 1: The Future King's Pregnant Mistress - Penny Jordan
Book 2: Surgeon Prince ... Ordinary Wife - Melanie Milburne
Book 3: Bought By the Billionaire Prince - Carol Marinelli
Book 4: The Tycoon's Princess Bride - Natasha Oakley
Book 5: Expecting His Royal Baby - Susan Stephens
Book 6: the Prince's Forbidden Virgin - Robyn Donald
Book 7: Bride By Royal Apointment - Raye Morgan
Book 8: A Royal Bride At The Shiekh's Command - Penny Jordan

Natasha's book, 'The Tycoon's Princess Bride', is available NOW in the UK and North America - and is a Romantic Times Magazine Top Pick and nominated for the Romantic Times Best Presents Award of 2007.

Come visit Natasha at her blog!______________________________________________________________

The Pink Heart Society attaches on to this marvelous post (did you see that tush!) to congratulate the Romantic Novelists' Association Shortlist for RNA Romance Prize 2008::


  1. See now - worth visiting this blog just for the last pic really lol!!!

    I HATE haggis. It's just knowing whats in it. But the thing with the cream shows promise...


  2. Lovely blog-
    I can remember my mum and dad dressing up to go out on Burns night - and all the guys in kilts.
    Love that poem -
    My Hearts In The Highlands.
    And I actually like haggis and all that goes with it - though I can remember my sister gagging!!!!